Diseases You Can Get From Your Pets: Plague, MRSA, Meningitis…

By Veronique Greenwood | December 12, 2011 1:20 pm

dog

Anyone who’s watched a cat engage in a strenuous butt-licking session only to come over and start in on cleaning up your hand has probably wondered how healthy this can possibly be. Maryn McKenna over at Superbug has uncovered a paper that will probably terrify, but may, with its detailed descriptions of diseases contracted from pets (did you know you can get meningitis from dogs?), fascinate you. From the paper, titled “Zoonoses in the Bedroom”:

“A 2008 matched case–control study surveyed 9 plague survivors, 12 household members of these survivors, and 30 age- and neighborhood-matched controls about household and individual exposures. Four (44%) survivors… reported sleeping in the same bed with a pet dog…

“Two cases of meningitis in newborn children (less than 1 month of age) have been reported; one was associated with a pet cat stealing a baby’s pacifier and using it as a toy, and the other was associated with a pet dog that often licked the baby’s face…

“A 48-year-old man with diabetes and his wife had recurrent MRSA infections. Culture of nares samples from the family dog grew mupirocin-resistant MRSA that had a PFGE chromosomal pattern identical to the MRSA isolated from the patient’s nares and his wife’s wound. The couple reported that the dog routinely slept in their bed and frequently licked their faces…

“A 60-year-old patient with chronic eczema died of septic shock and renal failure and disseminated intravascular coagulation caused by C. canimorsus. The ulcerous chronic eczema of his legs was the most probable port of entry for the organism because his dog used to lick his legs…”

This especially goes out to the folks with open wounds or immune deficiencies: your new puppy may be an itty-bitty schmoopy-woopy, but please, don’t share bodily fluids.

Image courtesy of aslives / flickr

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • AL

    These are anecdotes. How do we know the dog w/ +MRSA nasal cultures did not pick up the MRSA from licking its owners face (as opposed to other way around, which is what the article implies)? Most of us are actually colonized w/ MRSA or MSSA (methicillin resistant or methicillin sensitive Staph aureus), whether we know it or not.

  • Bob Snyder

    @AL, it doesn’t matter who had it first, the point was that the dog kept reinfecting the couple with MRSA. It would be even worse if it went from human to pet back to human. That means any time someone contracted MRSA it would be possible for the bacteria to live in your pets and keep reinfecting you after you get treated. Somewhat important to know, don’t you think?

  • Lance

    I love a study that starts out with “The estimated percentage of pet owners who allow dogs and cats on their beds is 14%–62%.” Leaving themselves some pretty big wiggle room there.

  • Orrfic

    Well, I agree with Al, these could be isolated incidents, besides, we do not know anything about the cleanliness, hygiene and vaccination of these pets or their owners. The study might have surveyed an area of certain contamination where pets where only an additional factor in transmitting the disease and not the main cause.
    I don’t know anything about MRSA, so I can’t even put any assumptions here, however, a wider scope study could confirm or dismiss these conclusions, it would take a bigger sample study (+1000 entries) with percentages. Otherwise, this article uses fear over scientific approach in delivering the desired impact.

  • Daveeee

    Isolated incidents. I would say having a pet is good for your health. Desensitized kids to dander and whatnot and Dogs in particular make you do things regularly. An active pet that requires running is perfect for keeping someone alive.

  • Chris

    And this gem from your neighboring blogger
    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/discoblog/2011/12/09/ncbi-rofl-does-bestiality-cause-penile-cancer/
    For those who are “sleeping” with their pets
    Collective Ewwwww.

  • Not So Grim Reaper

    Most of the cases in this article sound like they are just as likely to be the result of poorly managed cases as the result of “dogs and cats…living together…” [Ghostbusters].

    We’ve been pouring on the antibiotics like salt and pepper for more than half a century.
    Evangelicals may not believe in evolution, adaptation, and natural selection, but the smallest critters not only believe, but actively practice biological Darwinism. Upshot: sooner or later a few key mutations happen and resistant bugs can’t be stopped with existing drugs.

    Newborns generally carry a couple of months of immunity out from the womb. They pick up a little more if Mom provides breast milk. Keeping the baby changed, washed, and bathed is a big step, as is keeping the littlest tykes away from Rover or Kitty until the kids start crawling on the floor.

    The patients with complications from diabetes and chronic eczema need a new physician, preferably a specialist. Diet, exercise, good hygeine, and carefully administered medication can’t cure diabetes, but they sure can keep it at bay. Always remember to care for injection sites and sites where blood test lances are used–open doors to infection. Chronic skin ulcers can be treated with a variety of therapies including oxygen saturation in hyperbaric chambers in extreme cases. Of course, you do want to limit contact with people and pets if you have oozing sores–just common sense.

    The ultimate causal agents of plague are the purveyors of public health and sanitation. Open dumps, poorly maintained landfills, and open residential / commercial garbage containers are like resort hotels for rodents. Rodents are the transportation mode of choice for the spread of plague, and there you have it. When citizens and their public agencies can’t even muster the will to take out the garbage properly, it’s “game over.” Likewise, the lack of adequate housing and the reluctance of health authorities to force homeowners to remove infestations amounts to a public subsidy for plague. At home, take care ofgarbage and limit pet’s outdoor contact with wild areas. Flea killers can be used, but a great idea is the use of a small vacuum cleaner to tidy up animal’s coats.

    My whole family has a lot of health problems, and pets too. We are not clean freaks, but we try to take care of the scariest monsters this side of an Alien movie. Hope this helps.

  • William

    As mentioned already, the story about diseases from pets is anecdotal at best, and represents a poor sample size. I would think surveying veterinarians would be a better start to a study to see how many of them have been infected by microbes from pets they treat and examine. Also, others who routinely work with animals such as zoo employees could provide a better sample.

    It’s possible that many people who have had pets over many years may have developed resistance to certain diseases carried by their pets.

    Bites and scratches from dogs and cats should be treated immediately. Particularly with cat bites since those bites tend to be deep puncture wounds and requrie doctor intervetion.

  • http://www.a1prestigeplumbing.com San Diego Plumbing

    The plague, seriously? Hmm, I’m an animal lover to the nth degree but I never really thought about what they’d be passing on to me.

  • Ug

    Not nearly enough people involved for this to have any kind of credibility, frankly I’m surprised that discover even posted this.

  • shane

    First I want to point out that I have a “normal” average middle class income American family. We are clean, very healthy, and have great hygiene. None of us are immune compromised or what have you.
    A little after my son was born (oct.16.2011) he started to get some sort of rash by his nose and draining by his ear. My wife took him to the doctor and said it was a staph infection that he probably got from the hospital and put him on antibiotics. That was on a Wednesday. By that Sunday it got extremely worse and we had to go to the ER. I guess when we are exposed to bacteria our bodies release a toxin and it is filtered by our kidney. Since his kidneys are not fully developed it made his whole body break out…its call “scalded skin syndrome” It was really hard to see him like that! He was in the hospital on IV antibiotics and got better. Then the Sunday after thanksgiving I noticed a sore under my wrist from working out in the yard that was looking weird so I went to an urgent care center. The doc said it was probably the same deal and gave me some strong *horrible* antibiotics! Then that Wednesday I noticed that my dog had been biting at his tail and it was a little red. I took my DOG to my uncle (who is a vet) and HE HAS IT ON HIS TAIL! My son came off his antibiotic and 4 days later the opposite ear looked bad so he had to go back to the hospital for the second time… He was out the next day though, back on antibiotics and looking better now. I’m am also doing better. We saw our pediatrician and we are all frustrated that none of us have really been cultured or properly tested. Not sure if it is the MRSA strain of staph at this point; but my uncle is positive that my dogs tail was infected. He said dogs can get if from us but humans don’t contract it from animals (its called “zoonosis”). I have done as much research as I can and it looks like humans can get this from pets although everything is so vague and unclear online! My wife wants to get rid of our dog ASAP. I am really upset, I love him and consider him apart of my family. I found this article while researching….Any feedback, advice or input would be GREATLY appreciated. Thank you all.

  • Shane

    First I want to point out that I have a “normal” average middle class income American family. We are clean, very healthy, and have great hygiene. None of us are immune compromised or what have you.
    A little after my son was born (oct.16.2011) he started to get some sort of rash by his nose and draining by his ear. My wife took him to the doctor and said it was a staph infection that he probably got from the hospital and put him on antibiotics. That was on a Wednesday. By that Sunday it got extremely worse and we had to go to the ER. I guess when we are exposed to bacteria our bodies release a toxin and it is filtered by our kidney. Since his kidneys are not fully developed it made his whole body break out…its call “scalded skin syndrome” It was really hard to see him like that! He was in the hospital on IV antibiotics and got better. Then the Sunday after thanksgiving I noticed a sore under my wrist from working out in the yard that was looking weird so I went to an urgent care center. The doc said it was probably the same deal and gave me some strong *horrible* antibiotics! Then that Wednesday I noticed that my dog had been biting at his tail and it was a little red. I took my DOG to my uncle (who is a vet) and HE HAS IT ON HIS TAIL!

  • http://discovermagazine.com Iain

    I know what dogs and cats lick and I don’t let them lick me, it’s a rather disgusting concept.

  • Shane

    My son came off his antibiotic and 4 days later the opposite ear looked bad so he had to go back to the hospital for the second time… He was out the next day though, back on antibiotics and looking better now. I’m am also doing better. We saw our pediatrician and we are all frustrated that none of us have really been cultured or properly tested. Not sure if it is the MRSA strain of staph at this point; but my uncle is positive that my dogs tail was infected. He said dogs can get if from us but humans don’t contract it from animals (its called “zoonosis”). I have done as much research as I can and it looks like humans can get this from pets although everything is so vague and unclear online! My wife wants to get rid of our dog ASAP. I am really upset, I love him and consider him apart of my family. I found this article while researching….Any feedback, advice or input would be GREATLY appreciated. Thank you all.

  • Barry

    Keep the dog; get rid of the wife.

  • Jacki Latimore

    I’ve owned dogs for most of my 55 years and even though I alolowed them to sleep on the bed, I didn’t allow them to lick anyones face. To me this is just common sense when you consider what they do with thier tongues. Even though the article was interesting, it won’t stop me from owning a dog. Life just wouldn’t be the same….

  • AL

    @Bob – I know this thread has long ago ended – but it’s not necessarily the dog reinfecting the human. I have been a physician for over 10 years. Most of us are actually COLONIZED w/ Staph aureus (including MRSA and MSSA) irrespective of whether we have pets or not. There is not much we can do to eradicate our own colonization. We are more frequently than not the reservoirs (i.e. you get a scrape on our skin and Staph aureus that is normally colonizing your skin causes an infection now that defense provided by the skin is compromised)

    @Shane – As I mentioned to Bob, not much can be done to eradicate Staph aureus. What can be done (not 100% effective) is the following: bleach baths (1 tsp bleach per gallon of water and a 5 day course of mupirocin). I would probably recommend everyone in the family undergo the treatment (and even the dog if he’s amenable, but I’m not a veterinarian, so I don’t know if dogs can be colonized or not).

  • Geack

    Shane,
    I’m curious – what makes an antibiotic “strong” and “horrible”?

  • Annabug

    I know this was ages ago, but it bugs me, and I would want to make the case against ditching a dog for anyone looking for help in a similar situation.
    @Shane
    Deary me, really – Blame the dog why not, works with fart’s doesn’t it.

    Young puppies can get staph infections by the bucket load, but they are not generally transmittable to humans, especially if they are healthy – it makes sense to keep small babies AWAY from dogs, and to wash your hands in-between handling them because if anything’s going to catch a invasive strain – and then make it easier to transmit to the others – it will be the baby, but seriously, it sounds more like a environmental strain that you all got, by the time you got rid of the dog it will probably be healing – getting rid of the dog AFTER the infection is just … Crazy really, with Staph, what’s the point, you are all infected, and when it clears up you should finally be more protected from it. Just exersize good hygiene.

    Dog’s are family members and just as you would not abandon a family member for bringing a contagion into the house nor should you abandon a dog, people treating them as a object to be transferred when they are inconvenient is the main cause of over population in shelters. – After all if reinfection is the case, how would getting rid of the dog when more than one human is infected help? – Perhaps a quarantine would be a reasonable passifying scenario, giving him time to ride out the infection in a sterile environment.

    AL’s advise really is the best, clean every one up – be strict, watch out for possible ways you have been making yourselves more likely to catch the disease (Rough tiling perhaps, shared towels, re-using towels etc or even just the bathroom not drying out can cause bugs to be much easier to transfer between you all, if it is MRSA it most likely was through broken skin for the adults, as it thrives in such enviroments.)

    The story itself – terrible, anecdotal and with no way of really knowing the physical nature of how they dogs were kept – were they kept clean from fleas, worms and other parasites, where they allowed to roam, used for catching wild rats, otherwise in un-usuall situations for a modern pet dog) I know some here are worried about dogs licking their faces, and fare enough they do do some horrid things with their tounges :D But I am a sucker for dog kisses, I try to make sure my dog does as few horrible things with her mouth as possible, though no doubt it’s no the most sanitary of things – then again the average human’s mouth isn’t that pretty on a bacteral scale anyway. its a risk I’m willing to take :x

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